PM Lee Hsien Loong's toast speech at the official lunch with Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan on 8 July 2019.
Your Excellency Mr Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and Madame Anna Hakobyan, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
A warm welcome to PM Pashinyan and Madame Hakobyan and your delegation to Singapore. I am delighted to host PM Pashinyan on his first visit to Singapore and his first official visit here as Prime Minister. Our two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992, but our connections go back much further in history. Around 200 years ago, a group of Armenian merchants were amongst the earliest immigrants to move to Singapore, attracted by the new free port founded by Stamford Raffles. Their numbers were small, no more than 100 people at any one time, but their impact was significant.
Signs of Armenian influence can still be found all over Singapore. As a former journalist who founded his own newspaper, PM Pashinyan would undoubtedly be pleased to know that Singapore’s main English broadsheet, The Straits Times, was co-founded in 1845 by an Armenian, Catchick Moses. Several streets in Singapore bear the names of eminent Armenians who made Singapore their home, such as Sarkies Road, named after the Sarkies brothers who opened the iconic Raffles Hotel in 1887. Even our national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, was bred by Ms Agnes Joaquim, who was born in Singapore but of Armenian descent. The sculpture of Vanda Miss Joaquim orchids that PM Pashinyan unveiled at Armenian Street yesterday will stand as a symbol of the close connections between our countries.
We are proud of our links and shared heritage with Armenia, which we have continued to cultivate. For example, in June last year, Asia’s first Armenian museum opened in the Armenian Church in Singapore at Armenian Street. The Armenian community here helps to keep these links alive, including by conducting museum tours so others can also learn about the history of Armenia and its community.
On the global scene, we are fellow members of the Forum of Small States (FOSS) at the United Nations. We are both advocates of multilateralism and proponents of free trade. While many in the world may be turning their backs on free trade, we are negotiating an FTA between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Armenia is Chairman this year. The FTA will catalyse more business and stronger economic relations between our regions. We deeply appreciate Armenia’s strong support for the FTA. I am heartened by the substantial progress made and hope that we will be able to conclude the FTA, especially the goods chapter soon.
I am glad that PM Pashinyan will be meeting Singapore-based companies at the business roundtable later this afternoon. Both Singapore and Armenia are located in vibrant neighbourhoods, so I hope to see our businesses working together, tapping on the potential of our respective regions, and taking advantage of the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) that we recently signed and just exchanged.
Happily, we are strengthening ties in other areas too. The memorandums of understanding (MOUs) exchanged today in tourism, culture, education, and even on cooperation to establish Armenia’s very own Botanical Gardens, will be useful platforms for us to take our relationship forward. We welcome more visits and exchanges, such as through training courses under the Singapore Cooperation Programme. We too have much to learn from Armenia. Having invented the automated teller machine (ATM), colour television, and rotavirus vaccine, Armenians can surely teach us a thing or two about being innovative and entrepreneurial.
Prime Minister Pashinyan, once again, I welcome you to Singapore and wish you a productive visit.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, may I now invite you to join me in a toast to the good health and success of Prime Minister Pashinyan, Madame Hakobyan and their delegation; and the close friendship and growing partnership between Armenia and Singapore.
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